We have been reading in Judges 17-19 about some historical records that reveal the lawlessness that took place in Israel after the death of Samson. Chapters 17-19 specify explicitly that in those days there was no king in Israel. We see people have degraded to “might makes right” mindset to do whatever they please that they can get away with. We should not pretend that the same thing would not happen even today if there was no government or clear leadership to constrain evil people.
In Judges 19 specifically, a Levite took on a concubine, she played harlot, her father made difficult their return home, and they end up in amongst a very wicked people within Benjamin. They rape (to the point of death) the concubine. It is an appalling series of events to witness. In Judges 20 it continues with men of Israel gathering to carry out justice against the wickedness, but the tribe of Benjamin turns it into a civil war by refusing to acknowledge the wickedness.
This situation is a stark warning and remind to us of what happens when we allow a society to evolve toward anarchy and lawlessness.
Resolve to Punish the Guilty
1Then all the sons of Israel from Dan to Beersheba, including the land of Gilead, came out, and the congregation assembled as one man to the LORD at Mizpah. 2The chiefs of all the people, even of all the tribes of Israel, took their stand in the assembly of the people of God, 400,000 foot soldiers who drew the sword. 3(Now the sons of Benjamin heard that the sons of Israel had gone up to Mizpah.) And the sons of Israel said, “Tell us, how did this wickedness take place?” 4So the Levite, the husband of the woman who was murdered, answered and said, “I came with my concubine to spend the night at Gibeah which belongs to Benjamin. 5“But the men of Gibeah rose up against me and surrounded the house at night because of me. They intended to kill me; instead, they ravished my concubine so that she died. 6“And I took hold of my concubine and cut her in pieces and sent her throughout the land of Israel’s inheritance; for they have committed a lewd and disgraceful act in Israel. 7“Behold, all you sons of Israel, give your advice and counsel here.”
8Then all the people arose as one man, saying, “Not one of us will go to his tent, nor will any of us return to his house. 9“But now this is the thing which we will do to Gibeah; we will go up against it by lot. 10“And we will take 10 men out of 100 throughout the tribes of Israel, and 100 out of 1,000, and 1,000 out of 10,000 to supply food for the people, that when they come to Gibeah of Benjamin, they may punish them for all the disgraceful acts that they have committed in Israel.” 11Thus all the men of Israel were gathered against the city, united as one man.
12Then the tribes of Israel sent men through the entire tribe of Benjamin, saying, “What is this wickedness that has taken place among you? 13“Now then, deliver up the men, the worthless fellows in Gibeah, that we may put them to death and remove this wickedness from Israel.” But the sons of Benjamin would not listen to the voice of their brothers, the sons of Israel. 14The sons of Benjamin gathered from the cities to Gibeah, to go out to battle against the sons of Israel. 15From the cities on that day the sons of Benjamin were numbered, 26,000 men who draw the sword, besides the inhabitants of Gibeah who were numbered, 700 choice men. 16Out of all these people 700 choice men were left-handed; each one could sling a stone at a hair and not miss.
17Then the men of Israel besides Benjamin were numbered, 400,000 men who draw the sword; all these were men of war.
Civil War, Benjamin Defeated
18Now the sons of Israel arose, went up to Bethel, and inquired of God and said, “Who shall go up first for us to battle against the sons of Benjamin?” Then the LORD said, “Judah shall go up first.”
19So the sons of Israel arose in the morning and camped against Gibeah. 20The men of Israel went out to battle against Benjamin, and the men of Israel arrayed for battle against them at Gibeah. 21Then the sons of Benjamin came out of Gibeah and felled to the ground on that day 22,000 men of Israel. 22But the people, the men of Israel, encouraged themselves and arrayed for battle again in the place where they had arrayed themselves the first day. 23The sons of Israel went up and wept before the LORD until evening, and inquired of the LORD, saying, “Shall we again draw near for battle against the sons of my brother Benjamin?” And the LORD said, “Go up against him.”
24Then the sons of Israel came against the sons of Benjamin the second day. 25Benjamin went out against them from Gibeah the second day and felled to the ground again 18,000 men of the sons of Israel; all these drew the sword. 26Then all the sons of Israel and all the people went up and came to Bethel and wept; thus they remained there before the LORD and fasted that day until evening. And they offered burnt offerings and peace offerings before the LORD. 27The sons of Israel inquired of the LORD (for the ark of the covenant of God was there in those days, 28and Phinehas the son of Eleazar, Aaron’s son, stood before it to minister in those days), saying, “Shall I yet again go out to battle against the sons of my brother Benjamin, or shall I cease?” And the LORD said, “Go up, for tomorrow I will deliver them into your hand.”
29So Israel set men in ambush around Gibeah. 30The sons of Israel went up against the sons of Benjamin on the third day and arrayed themselves against Gibeah as at other times. 31The sons of Benjamin went out against the people and were drawn away from the city, and they began to strike and kill some of the people as at other times, on the highways, one of which goes up to Bethel and the other to Gibeah, and in the field, about thirty men of Israel. 32The sons of Benjamin said, “They are struck down before us, as at the first.” But the sons of Israel said, “Let us flee that we may draw them away from the city to the highways.” 33Then all the men of Israel arose from their place and arrayed themselves at Baal-tamar; and the men of Israel in ambush broke out of their place, even out of Maareh-geba. 34When ten thousand choice men from all Israel came against Gibeah, the battle became fierce; but Benjamin did not know that disaster was close to them. 35And the LORD struck Benjamin before Israel, so that the sons of Israel destroyed 25,100 men of Benjamin that day, all who draw the sword.
36So the sons of Benjamin saw that they were defeated. When the men of Israel gave ground to Benjamin because they relied on the men in ambush whom they had set against Gibeah, 37the men in ambush hurried and rushed against Gibeah; the men in ambush also deployed and struck all the city with the edge of the sword. 38Now the appointed sign between the men of Israel and the men in ambush was that they would make a great cloud of smoke rise from the city. 39Then the men of Israel turned in the battle, and Benjamin began to strike and kill about thirty men of Israel, for they said, “Surely they are defeated before us, as in the first battle.” 40But when the cloud began to rise from the city in a column of smoke, Benjamin looked behind them; and behold, the whole city was going up in smoke to heaven. 41Then the men of Israel turned, and the men of Benjamin were terrified; for they saw that disaster was close to them. 42Therefore, they turned their backs before the men of Israel toward the direction of the wilderness, but the battle overtook them while those who came out of the cities destroyed them in the midst of them. 43They surrounded Benjamin, pursued them without rest and trod them down opposite Gibeah toward the east. 44Thus 18,000 men of Benjamin fell; all these were valiant warriors. 45The rest turned and fled toward the wilderness to the rock of Rimmon, but they caught 5,000 of them on the highways and overtook them at Gidom and killed 2,000 of them. 46So all of Benjamin who fell that day were 25,000 men who draw the sword; all these were valiant warriors. 47But 600 men turned and fled toward the wilderness to the rock of Rimmon, and they remained at the rock of Rimmon four months. 48The men of Israel then turned back against the sons of Benjamin and struck them with the edge of the sword, both the entire city with the cattle and all that they found; they also set on fire all the cities which they found.
We do see at least the men of Israel turning toward the LORD for help and guidance. They pray and fast. They are seeking justice against those who practice wickedness. Interesting enough, I am not clear why the LORD allowed them to be defeated at first, but they kept turning toward him and he gave them victory in the end. Perhaps we can take it as a reminder that just because we face temporary defeat, does not mean we are not following YHWH’s path or that living righteously and seeking justice is not easy.
Let us remember historical accounts like this one when we find ourselves complaining about the law of YHWH. His instructions and guidance is there to provide a framework of righteous living. The rules help protect us. Let us take great care when claiming and pursuing “freedom” to do whatever seems right in our own eyes. This will never end well in the long run due to the inherent sinful nature of man. Seek after YHWH’s ways rather than our own.
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